Chapter 13:

“Back Alley To Me And You”

VISUAL SHOCK - sometimes you have to promise not to fall in love~


Kaori tilts her head questioningly.

“I’ve already been here. It’s not bad, but a lot of the styles have changed, so…”

“We’re not here for that.”

She walks up the stairs at the side.

“We’re going to Cupboard Kid.”

It’s mostly Lolita, but mixed in are absolute treasures. Every visual-kei brand of the last few decades has representation somewhere.

After a good half hour scouring the store, I end up with a pile of items that might actually fit. Kaori has been doing her usual thing, slipping her skirt on and off over whatever she fancies trying then and there.

I’m envious… and now I know why she was so blasé about it.

I’ve never been shopping with a girl before, other than my Mom, but that’s not the same. I had worried our outings would be different, strained since finding out she’s not a he, but Kaori’s not changed how she acts around me, so I’m doing my best to not freak out.

“Am I getting a fashion show?”

She stares at my arms full of hangers.

“Mmmm… if you’re that desperate to get me out of these clothes, we could have stayed home.”

Ok, maybe the flirtatious comments are new. Unbidden even. It’s just banter though, fun between friends. Completely platonic…

Kaori doesn’t even blink.

“I was thinking we could take turns, give each other comments on what looks best, bu-”


She guffaws at how quickly I change my tune.

Admittedly, since the revelation, I have been looking at Kaori a little differently.

It made a lot of things make sense, like why she always smelt good and not… sweaty, like my usual guy friends.

“You go first, I have a few more things I’d like to look at.”

Over the next ten minutes, I rotate in and out of as many clothing combinations.

Fortunately, most of them fit. Unfortunately, I cannot afford them all.

“I don’t want to not buy them, but I can’t afford to. So, be honest, be brutal, what looked worst?”

Kaori grins sardonically.

I shouldn’t have given her permission to slate me. Will I ever recover?!.

“It is hard to say…” her head tilted back.

Brace for impact!

“…I’m having a hard time choosing…” finger playfully on her chin.

Any minute now…

“…but, I guess I’d have to go with…” eyeing me sideways.

Pull the trigger already!!!

“…and it pains me to say this…”

“Come on, get to it. I know what you’re doing. Stop teasing!”

She giggles and lolls her head forward, hair covering her face, then looks up with murderous intent.

“All of it!”

I stagger back, clutching my chest, grabbing for the curtain to steady myself…

“Yeah, try again. You took too long with the setup. What do I put back? I want it all, but I’m trying to be sensible here. I’m only allowed to buy two things.”

Kaori pouts momentarily - in her cold, minutely expressive way - then changes tack.

“If you wanted to know which I liked you in most, then that’s what you should have asked.”

Her feedback is laced with salacious sarcasm.

“As amusing as the gap appeal is with your angry face in cute-core clothing, that’s what has to go. You suit more serious styles like EGA or military-kei, and you already have a lot of punk pieces.”

I wanted a sensible answer, I just wasn’t expecting one so thought out.

“You could also do iryou-kei, if today’s outfit is anything to go by.”

She actually seemed to squirm a little bit at that one - positively so - but of course she would, the eroguro edgelord.

“Those are all personal preferences, so take them with a spoon of salt.”

Wow! Two for one.

“I don’t think that much salt is needed with your wit.”

Kaori simply shrugs off my comment, but stares expectantly for the correction.

“Spoonful of sugar and pinch of salt. One helps makes bad news easier, the other stops you getting overexcited.”

She nods appreciatively.

“My turn?”

My turn to nod.

“And will you need a pinch or a spoonful to get through this?”

“I… uh…”


Mouth started running, but my brain kicked in just in time to stop me. Not taking that bait.

I smile and give her a knowing look.


“I plead the fifth.”

Kaori shoots me a quizzical glance as she enters the changing room.

“No comment.”

The curtains close curtly.

Phew… avoided that one.

I’m glad we can still talk and act mostly the same, but with the drinking session taking some of our inhibitions away, and Kaoru now being Kaori… things have change-

“Change this for me, please?”

Kaori dangles a shirt that would work for EGL or Aristocrat out through the heavy velvet drapes.

“With what?”

“There was a similar one, by Sheglitters.”


I find myself playing errand boy for some time.

It’s painstaking.

Occasionally, but only after thorough review against nearly every other similar item in the store, Kaori throws open the curtains to reveal her current combination.


She invariably looks phenomenal.

As model perfect as her sister probably did in the original promo shoots for the very same pieces when they were new.

I actually recognise some from her sis-con scrap book.

A slack jawed, “Wow!” or “Perfect!” is all I can muster.

Though pleased with the positive reactions, I can tell she finds them lacking. She actually wants feedback and I got nothing.

After the fourth or fifth time, she lets me have it.

“Look, I know these work. That is why I am taking my time before showing you. What I need from you is to be critical. Have I missed something? Does it wrinkle somewhere I cannot see? Are there any frayed areas or weak seams that are only visible when worn?”

She actually looks a bit stressed, and I feel like a let-down for just being blown away over and over.

“Please Tai. You have such a good eye for detail...” Kaori looks me up and down, indicating my homemade outfit, “...lend them to me.”

Thought she might try to pluck my eyes out for a second, but she just stands there, almost pleadingly.

“Sorry. I’ll do better.”

Inspecting the pile quickly eliminates a couple of items for irreparable snags. Which is a crying shame, because they would have been great finds otherwise.

She switches through a couple of garments in record time and I suggest either alterations that would make them fit her more appropriately, or quickly find another piece that might suit her build better.

“This is riding up here when you move, there’s not enough give in the material.”

Another costume change.

“That works! Oh, no… the sleeves and hem are too short on you.”

I source something else.

“Hmm… It looked fine on the hanger, but against other fabrics you can tell the dye has faded, and there’re patches where it’s thinned from overwear or poor care.”

Kaori doesn’t seem to mind, but I start to feel like a bully from being so critical.

Nearing the end, her last few pieces are all by…


There’s a shirt, similar to what she wore here, but more elaborate. Decorative ruffling on the collar and placket. Bodice corsetry lacing to the front. It’s…


Holding the shirt up, I desperately wish I could wear it myself.

“Do you want to see it on?”

A lilting voice reaches me from beyond the silken veil.

Stiffly, I lower the shirt to find the smirking yet earnest face of Kaori poking out from the dressing room.

Mumbling platitudes, I coyly hand it over. She beams for a split second, then disappears.

Acutely aware of how impatient I am to see her in it, my fidgeting only stops when the velvet screen is cast aside…

“…simply beautiful!”

With the bustle skirt, it’s a perfect combo.

She could be an advert for the damn thing.

My perception of time slows, appearing merely to crawl.

Like I can feel the muscles of my eye contract, dilating, and the reverberation of every heartbeat, bass and aching.

Kaori had begun to form words, maybe a “What do you think?”, but the syllables sit silently on her tongue.

I take in every detail.

It’s almost insulting how good she looks.

Like the clothes were made for her and her for them.

“It’s unfair…”

My hand moves up to my face in real time, no delay.

“Oh, shiii-”

Letting the long seconds slowly limp by, I look to Kaori, and feel my adrenaline spike.


“I guess I have to buy this one.”

She cuts me off before the nerves take over, already able to read me so well.

Our remaining items are swiftly put away on their rails, we pay, and leave with an awkwardly comfortable tension between us.

The journey back to our dorms, at first in pleasant silence, fills with plans of where to debut our spoils.

The more things change… heh!

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